Imagine a world free of flight delays and cancellations, where paper boarding cards were no more and your bags arrived with you every time. Instead of one hassle after another, flying is a personalized experience where you are known and cared for. Upon arrival at the airport, you are greeted at the door and the officer at the security check points knows who you are before you even hand over your passport. After making your way to the gate, you board the plane easily and take off on time. After arriving at your destination at the exact time scheduled, your bags are unloaded as you are ushered through security. As you approach the exit of the airport, your bags are delivered to you just in time.  

Fantasy into fact

What would it take to make that vision a reality? Let’s start with the mechanics of it, beginning with the jet engine. Jet engines generate a vast amount of useful and valuable data from their onboard sensors. What if all of those sensors were connected to the Industrial Internet and instead of reporting a value from a sensor, the jet engine identifies trends and notices issues that may impact performance. Upcoming maintenance needs that could cause an aircraft to be late are reported to the airline and traffic controllers. The jet engine communicates with aircraft suppliers and maintenance shops to book a visit to have the fault repaired at the next most convenient location taking into account the airline’s schedule, part availability and skillset requirements

Empowering people

This brings us to the next level: getting information to the most relevant people and creating the processes to react in real time. Prescriptive analytics identifies when long lead items are going to need replacing so that the forgers and casters can be lined up to create the part just in time for the replacement. Maintenance shop visits are optimized by customers to make the very most of the time their assets spend there. New insights are shared directly with engineers to impact the modeling of new engines. Integrating systems to share data between airlines, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), suppliers, or even passengers and crew is key to this vision.

Why stop there?

Let’s take a step further. Consider, if you will, a worldwide mesh network of aircrafts, each communicating automatically with each other in flight and with the ground. Every aircraft is an instrumented lab of measuring devices, meteorological information, air traffic, and human interactions. Now the aircraft can instantly know real weather conditions from aircrafts in the vicinity, without receiving and decoding weather data from satellites. Imagine that traffic spikes in part of the world, say for a sporting event, and the aircraft “knows” that its passenger list is dominated by fans of one of the competing teams and knows how they are behaving and when they will arrive at the airport in relation to a group of the competing teams’ fans, with whom they have a violent history. Preventative measures swing into action, such as re-routing the two planes to distant gates or beefing up airport security on the concourse.

Perhaps not entirely possible today, but soon. This is more science than fiction.

About the author

Rich Phillips

Chief Architect—CTO Office, GE Aviation